January 27, 2004

Playing Music Again

It has been 30 years since I played the violin, and I’ve finally got the itch to pick it up again.

I started playing the violin when I was 7. My grandfather had been stationed on the Russian front during the Great War (that would be World War I to you Yanks), and on the way home he traveled by train through Europe. For reasons that no one in the family knows anymore, he purchased half a dozen violins during his travels, and brought them back to the States with him. We were living at my grandmother’s house in Brookline (just outside of Boston) when I was seven, and I started playing while attending Baker Elementary School. I still have two of the violins, one in storage back in California that needs repairing, and one that I brought with us to Cornwall.

The one that I have here is the one that I played when I was a child. I would cart it around with me on the bus, dropping it, losing it, swinging it, placing it in mud puddles in order to make snowballs. It really is a miracle that it survived my childhood. The sound is quite beautiful, as is the body, and before we left I had it fixed by Roland Feller, who did a splendid job re-gluing the body and replacing the sound post.

I stopped playing after 10 years because the time needed to keep up with my peers, 3 hours a day by that stage, didn’t allow me to run cross-country in the Fall, play hockey in the Winter, track in the Spring, or sail in the Summer. I wasn’t particularly disciplined in high school, and as I look back on that time I realize I probably could have continued to play if I’d really wanted to. I don’t regret my decision, but I sometimes wonder how different my life would have been if I’d kept playing the violin and gone to a music college instead of an engineering college.

On the too infrequent nights that Rachel and I get out here in Cornwall, we often go to a pub up near Tintagel called the Trewarmett Inn. Wednesday and Saturday nights are music nights, and anyone can bring along their instruments and play. We’ve been half a dozen times, and every time we go I tell Rachel that I’m going to bring my violin “next time".

The pub has three rooms – the bar room, the music room, and the dining room. The bar room is tiny, with booths on both sides, and the bar at the end. I wore shorts year-round when I lived in Sausalito, and I’m trying to do the same here, which means that whenever we walk in the noise level goes to just about zero as all eyes turn to look first at us, and then at my legs. After a couple of heads shaking, the chatter returns and we crowd up to the bar to order.

The host and hostess are quite friendly. We’re not on a first name basis with anyone else just yet – this is Cornwall after all – but we do get the odd nod and smile. They don’t have my favorite, Guiness on tap, so I usually order something dark, and Rachel will have a lager or a shandy (1/2 lager and 1/2 lemonade – and much better than it sounds). Once you’ve got your drinks you move into the music room to the right of the bar. The dining room is on the left side of the music room, with a large doorway between so that you can have dinner and watch the entertainment.

The best seats are just to the right of the door, in along the wall. The communal guitar and drum are usually sitting there on the back bench as well, and anyone is welcome to pick them up and play along. The musicians sit around a large table at the back left corner of the room, with benches behind and a large number of stools out front. The circle of musicians expands and contracts as people come and go, and the number of musicians can be anywhere from 7 to 15. There are quite a few regulars, some of whom are quite good; and one violin player in particular who has been there every night we’ve been, and makes the trip really worthwhile.

I haven’t played yet because I was trained classically, and while I can sight-read quite well, no one uses music. I’ve asked around about lessons, but no one seems to know anyone who teaches Irish fiddling. I guess I’ll just have to take the plunge and bring my violin “next time".

Posted by: Frank @ 12:37 am — Filed under: Comments (3)

January 9, 2004

Getting Our Pets To England

We have three animals, Rosie the dog, and two cats, Geronimo and Ho Chi Minh. England has a no rabies policy, and as a result you either have to put them in quarantine for six months, in England, or you can send them under the new PETS scheme, which does not require a quarantine.

PETS stands for PEts Travel Scheme, and is a program whereby your animals can undergo the six month quarantine at home, before they leave for England. You begin by having your animals “chipped", which means that a small microchip (about the size of a grain of rice) that identifies your animal is placed in one ear. After that you give them a rabies vaccination. A month later you have their blood drawn and sent to be tested at a laboratory at the University of Kansas (just this one lab in the US is authorized to test for rabies under the PETS scheme). If the titer levels come back high enough, then your animal is eligible to enter England six months after the blood was drawn.

We started this process in late May of 2003, under the assumption that we would be moving to England in December, around Christmas time. But due to family circumstances we decided to move earlier, in early September. This meant that our animals weren’t ready to come under the PETS scheme, and so we left them at home.

There is a much longer story that could be inserted here about the two cats. The short version is that Ho Chi went missing, and so Rachel went back to San Francisco to send Geronimo over before the six months was up (so that we didn’t lose both cats). This meant that Geronimo had to finish the last two months of his six month quarantine at a quarantine kennel south of London. Which was fine, but it was also quite expensive. (For those of you wondering what happened to Ho Chi, he came in from the cold after 3 months, 1/2 his former weight but fine otherwise, and is now staying with a friend in San Anselmo. We’ll probably send him over in March, when Rachel goes back to San Francisco.)

As for our dog Rosie, our good friends Aaron and Julia have been taking care of her for us. Their children were thinking they might want a dog, and Julia thought that having Rosie for a couple of months would be a good way to test that theory. It was a great test, because after three months of Rosie they realize that Marcus (their six year old) isn’t quite ready for a dog.

Which brings us to today. I started by calling the USDA to track down the PETS certificate that our vet will need to fill out, as well as the tick and fleaworm certificate. Then I called the vet to see if they could fit Rosie in next week. Then I called Virgin Atlantic, which is the only carrier authorized to fly animals under the PETS scheme from San Francisco to London.

But when I got off the phone all I could think was “George Orwell was right, 1984 is happening right under our noses.” Why? Because Virgin refuses to ship Rosie unless there’s a human flying with her.

“What?” I said. “That’s right. You can’t ship your dog without flying too, because with the heightened security levels the USTA has changed the rules on us.” “No they haven’t” I said, “I just called United, and they say they’ll ship Rosie without anyone flying with her.” “Well…” the woman admitted, “I guess it’s our rule in conjunction with the USTA.”

I couldn’t believe it. I can send a package, but I can’t send a dog? If that isn’t the most idiotic rule I’ve heard yet, it’s got to be close.

The bottom line is that if we can’t ship Rosie via Virgin, we’ll use United. But that means that she’s not eligible for immediate entry, and we’ll have to have the quarantine kennel pick her up and keep her for a couple of days until their vet can fill out the early release paperwork. Which means more money and hassle.

So, if you’re flying Virgin from SFO to LHR, and could help out, do drop me a line.

Posted by: Frank @ 8:25 am — Filed under: Comments (4)

January 1, 2004

Best Wishes For A Happy, Healthy And Peaceful New Year

Best wishes to all of our family, friends and readers for a happy, healthy, and hopefully more peaceful, New Year.

Today is the first day of the year known as A.D. 2004. As I sit at my desk watching the grey light of Cornwall poking through the branches of the trees next door, I am struck by how much has happened this past year; nay just these last four months since we arrived in England on September 4.

Creating and writing this weblog was an attempt to document what we’ve been doing; to keep in touch with family and friends; to make some new friends along the way; and once we’d arrived at our ultimate destination, to be able to look back and remember how we got there.

But the last month has been very hard for us – and for me in particular – and because of that I haven’t felt much like writing.

After our trip to France in late November we had nothing planned until friends and family were to arrive for Christmas. And so for the first time in a long time we had a chunk of time with nothing to do but life itself.

Was it really just a year ago that we’d sold our house in Sausalito? And Sebastian had arrived in March? And we’d quit our jobs in July. And moved to England in September. Traveled to Italy in June, and again in September. And to France in November.

Followed by nothing. No plans for awhile. No projects to keep our minds occupied.

And worst of all, possibly nothing to look forward to.

Because when we looked at our finances (with the rapidly falling dollar), and compared them to the kind of life we had been hoping to live in Italy or France, we realized that we were going to have to make larger and different compromises than we’d been expecting to make. Living abroad wasn’t going to be as easy, or as possible, as we’d hoped.

And with that realization came doubts. And as the doubts grew, it got harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning. And so the month of December became for me a month of hibernation.

How appropriate. For the first time in twenty-five years, since I’d moved to California, I was living in a place where the sun doesn’t shine year round. Where the seasons are real. Where the rhythm of the earth defines what we do and how we do it. And it’s ok to just sit inside by the fire and read a book all day.

But I don’t know how to do that very well, or possibly at all. I’ve always had a job to go to. A trip planned. A project to finish. Who was I with none of those things to define me?

And then I thought about my brother Chris, with whom I have rebuilt three different houses in California. The planning phase is always fun and exciting, followed by the tear-out phase which is fast and furious – and there’s a real sense of accomplishment when the bones of the house have been exposed and there’s nothing but possibilities in the air. But then the rebuild starts, and something unexpected always happens – a foundation that needs repairing, walls that need moving, floors that can’t be saved. And when that happens reality sets in, and I grit my teeth and groan at the sky.

And each time that has happened – three times now, once for each house – my brother has looked at me and said, “Don’t worry bro’, it’s gonna get worse before it gets better.” And he’s right. It always gets worse. And it always gets better.

I like that, our life as a house construction project. We entered the planning phase while still in the States. Then we moved to England where we’ve had four months of “tear-out". And when we stopped to catch our breath, and had a moment to compare our plans with the reality of life here and our finances, December became our “gets worse” phase.

Which means that as the New Year begins, and the sun starts to reappear, and the first flowers poke up through the ground cover, our lives will be entering the “gets better” phase.

What a nice thought.

Best wishes to all of you. Please let us know how you’re doing.

Love and Hugs,

– Frank, Rachel, Nathaniel and Sebastian

Posted by: Frank @ 2:23 pm — Filed under: Comments (1)